Transition to Modernity: Political, Economic, and Religious Change Among the Ibo of Nigeria 1900-1930



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Corruption is a debilitating phenomenon that plagues many sub-saharan African nations today. There are many studies into its causes, behaviors, and possible solutions. For myself, at the beginning of this study I sought to answer a few basic questions: How do corrupt elites maintain power? What produced the relationship that allows illegitimate governments to remain in power? Post-colonial theory provides a framework for examining how violent colonial histories shape contemporary African politics. I hypothesize that the health of corrupt governments in Africa is a reflection of past colonial governance and furthermore, if we can understand what existed before colonial rule and how local indigenous forms of power changed under colonial rule, we may understand more about the nature of illegitimate governance. The system of indirect rule in Iboland, south-eastern Nigeria in the early 20th century (1900-1930) was characterized by a centralized, hierarchical power contained in a single entity (per district), the Native Court, and a single Warrant Chief to preside there over. The process of centralization paralleled the elimination of indigenous forms of accountability so that Warrant Chiefs and other colonial employees could take full advantage of their unchecked power. The thesis traces the power shift from spiritual and symbolic leaders and dispersed power structures in pre-colonial Ibo societies, the predominant ethnic group in south-eastern Nigeria, to the establishment of colonial rule and the rise of the Warrant Chiefs. Particular emphasis will be placed on the elimination of indigenous structures of accountability and the predatory characteristics of the Warrant Chiefs and of the colonial system as a whole. The most powerful critique of colonial rule is heard in the protest movements of Ibo women in the 1920's. Both the Dancing Women's Movement, which targeted Warrant Chiefs and the Ibo Women's War, in which thousands of women symbolically tore down, or beat on colonial structures including Native Courts and protested British colonial administrators and their African collaborators, the Warrant Chiefs and other court members. Thus, in my presentation I will not only track the shift of power between African men and European men, but also the reclamation of agency by Ibo women and their rejection of the dual oppression of colonial rule.



African colonial studies, Ibo, legitimacy, Nigeria